The mercury is definitely falling outside, but that means that Major League Baseball’s stove is red-hot. Besides cheesy puns and cliches being thrown around, there is a lot of speculation going on as to what Milwaukee is going to do to keep themselves in contention for 2012.
Milwaukee has 15 ballplayers in free agency right now, and it’s clear that a handful of them will not be returning in any facet to the Brew Crew as they set off to defend their Division Title. With that being said, we would be remiss if we did not add to the speculation with a list of possible free agency outcomes of our own, though it probably won’t be what you’d expect.
First, here’s a look at the Brewers that have either opted for or been resigned to the free agency pool
- 1B Prince Fielder
- 2B Jerry Hairston
- 2B Craig Counsell
- 2B Felipe Lopez (Minors)
- SS Yuniesky Betancourt
- IF Josh Wilson (Minors)
- C Mike Riveria (Minors)
- OF Brandon Boggs (Minors)
- OF Mark Kotsay
- OF Erik Almonte (Minors)
- RP Mitch Stetter (Minors)
- RP Sean Green (Minors)
- RP LaTroy Hawkins
- RP Takashi Saito
- RP Francisco Rodriguez
The short answer is most of them, and that’s a fair amount of the team’s bench heading off to greener pastures. Number one, I think Prince is gone and there are no illusions left there for me. If some divine intervention occurs and we get him back this article changes a little, so we make the assumption he goes somewhere else (for my part – I think he’d look good in Dodger blue). Yuni’s option was declined, and most of the minor league free agents will likely be signed on with other teams. K-Rod is also going to end up being a closer somewhere other than Milwaukee (I’m sure Theo is already working something in Chicago). Between Kotsay, Counsell, Hawkins and Saito you have a combined age of 157; I think it’s a safe bet that a few of those people will be retiring. For the sake of this experiment, we will use the doomsday scenario of all of them hanging up their cleats. It’ll be more fun this way anyhow.
Well, if you’ve been paying attention that only leaves a few people not expressly mentioned – one of them being Jerry Hairston. He’s no spring chicken himself but I think he’s proven that he has some life left in him. He had a consistent bat and handy glove work during his short stay in Milwaukee this year, and he played lights out in the playoffs both offensively and defensively. I think Milwaukee would be silly not offer him something to stay on board and keep another veteran around for next season.
The other person I think the Brewers keep in our hypothetical situation is Josh Wilson. I think he still has some potential in him and we saw it in a handful of game this year. He is good with his glove and needs some tuning at the plate but would be an excellent and inexpensive addition to the bench.
Who Do We Get?
Excellent question. The field of affordable and young talent is slim, so the Brewers will need a keen eye and some pretty slick work with the checkbook to get the most bang for their buck in terms of the free agent pool. We’ll take this position-by-position to see what we feel would be the best options for the team.
First Base – You cannot, and should not attempt, to replace Prince Fielder. If we could not even get a phone call into Boras regarding Prince, there’s no way Albert is coming and our days of a big swinging first baseman are over for the time being. My first and most hopeful scenario does not involve a free agent at all. It involves Mat Gamel getting his head out of the clouds and stepping into being a real Major League ballplayer. He’s had well documented attitude problems in Nashville and a big problem with hitting on the Major League level, but there will be no bigger opportunity for Gamel to succeed then next year. I’ve also been toying with the possibility of Hairston becoming the everyday third baseman, and working McGehee and Gamel as a platoon at first base. McGehee has played 11 games at first – all error free by the way – so experience and ability are certainly there. I would like to believe that taking his mind off of fielding would help to decrease his angst at the plate, but the Brewers will have to cross that bridge when they get there.
In terms of free agents, there isn’t a lot of talent I trust or think would be worthwhile for the Crew to pick up. The team will have to pick up an older player with either a sizable amount of first base experience or poach a DH from the American League. All things being equal I suspect the Brewers will promote internally for the position.
Infield (2B/3B/SS) – I’m not in complete agreement with my buddy Lou that Reyes is out of the question or somewhat undesirable to land in Milwaukee. I think with the money that Milwaukee was going to offer Prince would certainly give a decent ballpark figure for Reyes and his handlers to work around. His injuries are concerning, but no more so than Rickie and Hart, who we also threw buckets of money at in the off-season in previous years. Bottom line – Reyes is a solid lead-off hitter (something we need) with speed on the bases (something we could always use more of, especially with one less power bat) and a consistently elite-level glove (something we wanted desperately from Yuni). That, and he wants to play for a contender – I would consider a trip to the NLCS contending, wouldn’t you? as Lou noted, there is an offer on the table for Reyes, but don’t be surprised if Milwaukee tries to slip in at the last minute. It’s a bit of a long shot but not out of the question that he plays in Miller Park next season. Of course that flies out the window if Prince comes back, but don’t hold your breath on anything in this paragraph coming to fruition.
Truth be told, the depth of affordable and young talent in the infield is very slim right now. It’s unlikely that Rollins will leave his familiar post with Philly, and he’s the only other very dependable infielder on the market. Ramon Santiago is an interesting player to consider and his numbers don’t look all that shabby. Nick Punto from St. Louis could also be valuable. He doesn’t hit big numbers but he gets on base an awful lot and that couldn’t hurt to set the table for Braun next year. All in all, the safest bet would be to keep Taylor Green up in the Show and supplement his talents with other minor league players and a cheap bat off the bench like the two players I named earlier.
Outfield – A lot of noise is being made about Grady Sizemore right now for Milwaukee, but whatever ‘they’ are selling, I ain’t buying. Grady is still relatively young and comeback is not out of the question for him, but let’s look at the facts. Grady played more games in 2009 (106) then he has in the two seasons that followed (a total of 104). His numbers have taken a nose dive, and I’m not sold on the fact that our outfield is so terrible now that we need his defense at the expense of lost production. Nyjer’s numbers and defense took a tumble into the postseason, but overall I still trust him in center. I think the most obvious case for the Brewers would be maximize their mobility around the base paths and keep Gomez and Hart working together in right field, as much as both of them pain me to watch. Grady’s a good kid and he’s still got talent, but I think we have enough money put into the walking wounded at present time to take a chance on him.
If you must have someone I find interesting or approachable in the off-season, I offer you the following names: Jay Gibbons, Jason Kubel, and Endy Chavez. I thought of Kosuke Fukudome as well, but that was as much about the wonderful puns I could use with his name as much as his numbers, although he was surprisingly more consistent than I thought. Each of these guys have a decent balance between average and on-base percentage that makes they think they would be good stabilizers in the middle and lower parts of the order.
Pitching – For the first time in a long time, pitching is not a big issue for Milwaukee. In all honesty one of the two veteran relievers will be back, but not both. My guess would be that barring retirement, Hawkins will be back in the ‘pen for 2012. Saito’s injuries and shaky start to 2011 leave a lot of questions about what his future is in Milwaukee. I highly doubt, with the depth of good minor league pitching and the notable appearances from people like Dillard, De La Cruz, and Fiers that much will be made in terms of pitching moves this off-season.
Oh, but if Prince does wind up somewhere in the central, we should pick up Paul Maholm from the Pirates’ yearly fire sale and put him in the bullpen. Why? Not because of his pitching prowess in general, but because he has ridiculously good numbers against the big man. Suck it, Boras.
The first big concern is that there isn’t a ton of money to work with, even with Prince’s contract leaving the discussion. A host of players, most notably and well deserved being Braun and Gallardo, are up for raises in the off-season. Beyond that, I have little doubt that Morgan and Marcum will beat arbitration and get a hefty little sum going into 2012. That’s only going to leave a scant amount of free money (in baseball terms, at least) to work with openly, which is why the Brewers are going to have to maximize areas of the game besides big bats in order to get the biggest bang for their buck. Last year was a lot of fun for free agency in Milwaukee, but this year I think the farm system pump is primed and ready to spit out some talent and help keep costs down and production steady for the 2012 season.
So there’s my quick and dirty field guide to the Brewers off-season moves. Is it a comprehensive list? Probably not, as the Crew’s front office has proven they are willing to take a chance for better or worse when it comes to filling out the roster. Is it a good list? That’s up to you to decide, as I’m sure our readers have their own list of people and reasons behind them. I’d love to hear them, so go ahead and start yelling at me in the comments below.